Elvis Costello has been compared to several singers — Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly among them — but he's an original. He plays to a sold-out house Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Playhouse Theatre.
Costello, 22, is part of rock's "new wave," the all-encompassing term that frustrated rock critics have pinned on the odd assortment of groups that has come on the scene in the last two years. He doesn't really fit into the new wave's largest sub-species, the punk rockers and not just because he doesn't stick safety pins through his cheeks.
He shares with the punk rockers a certain nihilistic anger, but he's far more articulate. Thus, the comparison to Dylan.
His spirited, uncompromising delivery of solid rock tunes is reminiscent of Holly, but most comparisons to the late singer seem to begin and end with the visual aspect: Costello wears the type of heavy-framed glasses that Holly made famous and he moves on stage in a similar stiff-legged manner.
For those who insist on comparisons, Springsteen Is probably the closest point of reference to Costello, a former computer operator. Springsteen, once touted by Time Magazine as the new Dylan, also has the ability to rock convincingly.
Costello was born Declan McManus, the son of a British bandleader of the '40s and '50s. He began writing songs about eight years ago and released several singles under a variety of names.
Neither the names nor the records went anywhere until he decided to call himself Elvis Costello and released an album called My Aim is True in 1977. Earlier this year, his second album appeared, called This Year's Model.
Fans of the original Elvis, offended that the King's name has been taken In vain, might like to console themselves with the belief that Costello is merely showing his respect for Presley. If that's the case he's not letting on.
"Why not?" he asks when people question his adoption of the name. The response is typical of Costello, who shuns interviews and the usual trappings of the garish haute-monde of rock.
Costello and his band the Attractions are playing 12 dates across Canada. The opening group, the Wives, is a Toronto-based band that last week changed its name from Battered Wives under pressure from feminist organizations.